Wits looking to make R1bn from land sale to help ‘poor students’

Wits looking to make R1bn from land sale to help ‘poor students’

Wits University. Picture: Steven Tau

A concerned resident opposing the sale says the university is not honouring the spirit of why it was endowed with Frankenwald Estate to begin with.

Wits University is looking to make R1 billion from selling the controversial Frankenwald Estate near the Marlboro Gautrain station. The site was given to the institution – through a deed of gift – by British mining magnate Sir Alfred Beit in 1905 to be used for “education in perpetuity”.

In a 2017 report to the university’s council, vice-chancellor Adam Habib said the institution was exploring the possibility of an outright purchase of Frankenwald Estate by the City of Joburg.

Habib said: “We have also received a request from the executive mayor to explore the possibility of an outright purchase of Frankenwald by the municipality. We have had subsequent, similar conversations with the Gauteng MEC for cooperative governance and traditional affairs and human settlements.

“I have made it clear in my discussions with government that we are looking at a R1 billion purchase price to establish an endowment to enable access for poor students.”

Frankenwald Estate is a 290-hectare piece of land close to the Marlboro Gautrain station and Linbro Business Park.

In 1987, it was transferred to Wits by the Transvaal Provincial Administration for Frankenwald to be zoned “special” for educational and scientific research purposes and ancillary use.

Jim Powell, a concerned resident opposing the sale and commercial development of Frankenwald Estate, said the university was not honouring the legacy of the “Alfred Beit Deed of Gift” and instead was trying to make a quick buck.

“Professor [Guerino] Bozzoli [former Wits vice-chancellor] stated in the 1920s, when Wits was pressed for cash, the council very unwisely sold off about 1 200 acres [486 hectares] to the neighbouring dynamite company,” said Powell.

“Similarly, Wits has also sold the portion to the east of the N3 to the Johannesburg Pension Fund. It is now Linbro Park Industrial.

“Both of these sales were contrary to the deed of gift conditions…” he added.

“Now the intention is to sell the land and take the money again.”

Powell said there was no dispute as to Beit’s wishes for education on Frankenwald.

“The chancellor, councillors and vice-chancellor should consider the assessment by future benefactors to Wits when the Alfred Beit gift is treated in this way.”

Powell said the nearby Alexandra township was in great need of education and skills training of all types and that the development of education on the Frankenwald Estate would go a long way in meeting that need.

Speaking to The Citizen, Wits University’s head of communications, Shirona Patel, said the institution had engaged extensively with Powell on this matter.

“The university will engage with Mr Powell through the appropriate forum and not through the media.”

– gcinan@citizen.co.za

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